WRITER: JENAE WILLIS
My name is Jenae. And I’m a perfectionist. I know, totally sounds like I’m at a Alcoholic’s Anonymous group but I’m serious. I always have been a perfectionist. I won’t blame the media on that one. When I say "I’m a perfectionist" I mean that I’ve really got it bad. I will spend HOURS doing a 30 minute job because it HAS to be done perfectly. I spend about 15 minutes separating my eyelashes after putting mascara on so that they look just perfect. Don’t believe I’ve got it bad? Here’s an entry from my journal:
“I enjoy the admiration and praise I get because I usually do things well. But at the same time I feel so trapped by it because I feel like I have to maintain. I feel such a intense pressure to stay on the pedestal. I am enslaved by my perfectionism.”
Just so ya know, this particular journal entry was a bit of an epiphany for me. I never before had thought of my perfectionism as ENSLAVING. It really wasn’t until this journal entry that I realized that perfectionism wasn’t the great thing everybody (with the exception of my mom, who knew how hard it was for me) always said it was. I was always told how great I was because I “always did the job right” or I was “always so perfect at everything”. Notice the words “always”, “right”, “perfect”, “everything”. No pressure or anything though, right? To be honest, for a long time I thought I was “blessed” to have that sort of drive - the kind most people lacked. Because that’s what people told me my perfectionism was - just “drive”, with no harmful side effects.
Well, it did have harmful side effects. I got much worse. I would write things in my journal like this, “I want to lose 75 pounds.” At the time I weighed 160. I’m two inches shy of being six feet tall. Do the math: 160 - 75 = 85 POUNDS. At almost six feet tall. I also wrote, “Once I lose weight I’ll have skinny legs where my thighs don’t touch. I’ll look good instead of the whale that I am that looks like its shrink wrapped into everything it wears.” People agreed with me that having my thighs not touch would be the best thing in the world. Then I started writing, “Today I ate practically nothing and it wasn’t even hard!” As it got worse, I wrote things like, “I just don’t like eating anymore.” For a while, I couldn’t go a single journal entry without writing something about my weight/body. And through the whole thing, all people did was compliment me on how skinny I was and how flat my tummy was.
Most of the time, in my journal I just talked about what a complete waste of space I was - not cool enough, kind enough, creative enough, talented enough, athletic enough, smart enough. Even right now, I am embarrassed to admit my ACT score even though I scored in the 99th percentile and got perfect scores on almost all the sections. The reason I'm embarrassed? Because I didn't get perfect scores in ALL the sections. Because any time I told people my ACT score (After they asked, of course. I didn't just go around yelling my ACT score) they would congratulate me and then promptly talk about a kid that they know that got a 36. Thanks.
Now I’m not blaming anyone for my perfectionism. Like I said, I WAS BORN THIS WAY (cue Lady Gaga music). Totally on me, I know. But I still can’t help but wonder if all those “compliments” really only made it worse. I still can’t help but wonder if I wouldn’t have gotten worse or gotten as bad if more people had been like my mom. My mom was really the ONLY one (before I met and married my sweet husband) that told me how awesome I was just because I was - and meant it. My mom always taught me to strive for EXCELLENCE not perfection. People say, “A job isn’t worth doing if it isn’t done right.” Her joke is that, “A job isn’t worth doing if it has to be done right.” She let me look ridiculous through my awkward years because she wanted me to have confidence in my choices, my appearance and everything else. I joke around and say, “MOTHER. Why would you let me leave the house looking that AWKWARD??!!” She laughs and says, “I wasn’t about to criticize you for something so trivial and make you feel like you couldn’t make your own choices. I wasn’t going to make you feel your mother’s disapproval over something so stupid.”
How simple. What a wonderfully, gloriously simple idea: Not criticizing others over something so trivial as what they are wearing, how their eyebrows aren’t well arched, what their bust/waist/hip measurements are, how their hairstyle doesn’t frame their face the way it should. Not making people feel the painful and humiliating BURN of our disapproval over something so absolutely STUPID. How simple. How genius. Why, oh why, couldn’t I have listened to her when she said things like that? Why can’t more people be like my mom? I think if more people thought like my mom and talked like her maybe perfectionists wouldn’t get worse the way I did. Maybe people wouldn’t feel so much PRESSURE all the time. Has anybody thought about that? Blaming the media a little less and being a little more accountable for what WE have done to put pressure on others and ourselves? THE MEDIA ONLY SELLS WHAT WE BUY. Both literally and figuratively. I know I have heard little girls making fun of another little girl who is overweight. I know you’ve heard it. I know I’ve done it. And I know you’ve probably done it too. Who teaches little girls to do that to each other? We do. Why do we DO that to ourselves? With every mean comment we not only hurt somebody else but we set OURSELVES up for failure. With every cruel remark we set the bar of perfection higher and higher and then we are miserable when we don’t reach it. Maybe we should stop comparing the strengths of one to the weaknesses of another. It's not a very fair game we are playing, is it? The media doesn’t make us do that. We choose to. We have to STOP DOING THAT. Really. We HAVE to. For our sakes. So maybe, for our sakes, we should finally start ALLOWING other people to be imperfect and, thus, allow ourselves to be imperfect. Wouldn't that be a grand, liberating idea? Let's set the world free then, shall we?